Mica Paris has performed Mica Sings Ella for several one-off shows now to rapturous reception. “Put it this way,” she says, “we’re going around and we’re doing this set and I have to tell you, audiences are going mental for it.” Paris does have faith in the project, but she has been pleasantly surprised by the public reaction to it. This surprise is rooted in the reason Paris even undertook Mica Sings Ella in the first place. For Paris, Ella Fitzgerald is an “unsung hero.”
“She’s music that everyone likes, that everyone knows. They’ve seen it, heard it somewhere, in an advert or something. But people really don’t say much about her life. Mainly because she was kind of good.” Good here meaning very much on the rails. Not exactly ‘rock and roll’ as the media likes to present it. “She didn’t really go down that drug route, which is always more appealing for journalists, media people or whatever.”
Paris compares Fitzgerald’s life to that of Billie Holiday, a Fitzgerald contemporary. “Billie was around at the same time, but Billie Holiday got more press because of the drug use and also because she was better looking. Ella wasn’t really a face. But my God what a voice.” It’s a voice that Paris is not trying to imitate. Mica Sings Ella is not a tribute album. “I’ve seen good tribute bands, but this is more me reinterpreting Ella my way. Paying homage to her.”
Other than her status as an unsung hero, it was Ella Fitzgerald’s daring approach to music that inspired Paris. “She’s very much outside the box. She’s always changing trends, changing her style. She did The Beatles, Gershwin, Cole Porter. She did everything.” And she didn’t stop there. “She would create new styles like scatting, and she was just spectacular. And she would change her sound, too.” Fitzgerald would sometimes turn in quiet, subdued performances, “and at other times she would tear the house down like a gospel choir. She was amazing!”
Paris has made it her mission to educate the younger generation about Fitzgerald and those like her. “There are some really great people that left music for us to enjoy over the years and they’re just unsung, and I think especially with the younger generation, it’s our job as the older generation to remind them of the greats, you know.”
So where should a member of this younger generation begin if they want to get started with Ella Fitzgerald? “She made nearly like a hundred albums.” That, we point out, looks intimidating to the newcomer. Paris reassures us that she’ll help us out. “Ella Fitzgerald, 12 Nights in Hollywood, that’s a really good one. You wanna get anything with her and Duke Ellington live. And you wanna hear her rendition of ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ by The Beatles. I mean insanity—it sounds so good!”
And this is where the audiences agree. Mica Paris and arranger Guy Barker have been working hard to capture the joy of their Mica Sings Ella live shows in the studio ahead of the album’s 2018 release. “It’s cool because it’s never gonna be what live is. It can’t be. So we have to make a live album, no two ways about it. But in the studio it’s kind of cool too. You’ve got 90 people in an orchestra playing, and that’s pretty live. The only thing you’re not getting is the live atmosphere with the people and stuff, but it’s a pretty powerful recording. Imagine strings, horns.” Paris directs those interested to a clip of the album on her Instagram page. And of course there’s the album’s first single, available on iTunes.
Though she’s connecting with another artist’s material, you can tell that this is a personal project for Paris. As you can read in the first half of our Mica Paris interview, the singer is currently penning a book about the troubles women face in the music business. Troubles which drive some of them to dark places. One of these women is of course Billie Holiday. Another that Paris mentions is Whitney Houston. Struck by the similarities, we ask Paris if she feels an affinity for Fitzgerald in that they both remained relatively unsung throughout much of their careers while other, more troubled singers grabbed the headlines. “Absolutely, yeah. I feel very connected to Ella in that way. It’s not to put down people that did become drug addicts. There’s a myriad of reasons people do it. Just for me personally, it didn’t appeal to me. I never wanted to destroy myself.”
For Paris, this aversion to vices stems from gratitude. “I’m so grateful that I make money for what I do, that I have this gift and I get paid to perform and feel the most incredible feeling when I’m doing what I’m doing.” It’s almost a spiritual thing. “I’m not religious, but I do believe there’s something bigger than us. It’s very important that we value what we are because then we’re saying to the creator that we’re grateful for what she’s made.” To abuse ourselves is to have the creator’s work blow up in her face.
It’s a poignant way to end, but we still have one more question. Who would Paris want to record a reinterpretation of her own catalogue? At first, she’s stumped. Then she settles on the perfect answer. Hopefully it would be someone who “would interpret it in their way. Like I’ve done Ella. people who come into Mica Sings Ella hoping I sound just like her are not gonna see that. It’s gonna be me doing it. So when someone does me, I hope they do it their way as well.”
Book Mica Paris now to bring Mica Sings Ella to your venue.